Alternative forage crops

Growing alternative forage crops can help extend the grazing season, enable over wintering or fill any specific gaps when grazing is sparse. Here we consider some of the options and the benefits they can bring to beef and sheep units.

Reducing costs and being more self-sufficient with home-grown traceable forage has probably never been more important. Not only have costs of chemical inputs and feed escalated beyond levels seen before, there is also increasing pressure on farms to become more sustainable. Alternative forage crops can help address all those issues.

Stubble turnips 720 - ForFarmers UK


Clover is a popular first choice when looking to diversify into forages beyond ryegrass. Both red and white clovers play a role in fixing nitrogen in the soil, while also producing a high protein forage for livestock. It’s important to note that clovers need warmer temperatures to grow (8°C) than ryegrasses so won’t get going until slightly later.

White clover is particularly palatable and digestible and works well in mixed swards with other legumes, grasses and herbs. Managed well it has good longevity. Generally speaking, smaller leaved varieties produce less yield, but have more persistent growth particularly under more intensive grazing. This is due to the network of stolons being higher with these varieties.

Red clover is a high-yielding option most often used in a mixture with perennial ryegrass. It has a deeper rooting system than white clover, growing from crowns rather than via stolons. This makes it vulnerable to damage through grazing, poaching or being cut too short.


Forage root crops such as kale, swede, stubble turnips, grazing turnips and forage rape are a cost effective way to fill hunger gaps in summer, autumn and winter. Capable of producing high yields in a short growing period they can successfully extend the grazing season. Other benefits include soil conditioning and providing a break crop in the rotation after which any following grass ley will establish more successfully. Strip or block grazing is often the best approach, but remember that stock should be offered straw or hay and minerals in the field alongside a brassica crop.

Choice of crop will depend on the desired outcome. For example those wanting to extend grazing into the autumn or over winter might look towards kale or swede. For gaps in summer grazing, forage rape or grazing/stubble turnips may be the best choice.

Key points to remember include that brassicas need a warm (10°C minimum) soil. Testing of the soil prior to drilling is advisable and creation of a fine firm seedbed is important to ensure the crops establish well. Fields should be free draining and if the plan is to use the crop over winter it’s important to avoid sloping fields and consider requirements for shelter and access.

Brassica crops should also always be followed by a five-year break. It’s worth taking time to explore the options to find the best fit for your farm. Some offer superb drought tolerance (grazing turnips) and others (stubble turnips) are great for grazing through drier months or winter (swede). Browse our range here


A cost-effective high-quality forage source, wholecrop can deliver high yields and consistent quality and works well alongside grass and maize systems. Cereal options can be grown in a wide range of conditions and perform consistently well.


Lucerne offers highly digestible, high protein grazing, but is usually cut and clamped or baled. Yields are comparable to clover at 12-14t DM/ ha/year and 18-24% protein. It also brings benefits of nitrogen fixing and, due to its deep tap root, can thrive in dry conditions. Lucerne offers great longevity too and can be productive for five years with up to four cuts per year. Take advice on variety choice to find the best option for your growing conditions.

Herbal leys

These diverse mixes offer good yields while also bringing the soil conditioning benefits of the leguminous crops. Highly palatable they can help increase forage intakes and liveweight gain. The mixture of deep and shallow rooting plants also means that all available nutrients are used. Other benefits include drought tolerance and anthelmintic properties of some species in these mixes, most notably sanfoin, chicory and birdsfoot trefoil. Some of these mixes comply with GS4 requirements under the Mid and High Tier Countryside Stewardship Scheme which is another advantage.

Silage additives

Another consideration to make the most of ensiled crops is silage additive. Appropriate use of additives can minimise losses and lead to higher liveweigh gains. Browse our range here and if you need advice please ask your ForFarmers account manager.

For more information

For personalised advice on the best options for you and your farm speak to your ForFarmers account manager. They can also organise soil and slurry testing and advise on nutrient management plans or send us an online enquiry using the link below: